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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

A Strong Lead is Necessary Indeed


Sure, the whole newscast should be made up of quality stories that keep viewers hooked. Yet in reality, it is your first story that is most important in establishing the fact that you mean business.

There's this one quote, maybe you've heard it a time or two, that cautions people to "Never judge a book by its cover." I would have to amend the quote to "Never judge a book by the first page," because in most instances, I would say that people are just curious enough to open a book and browse over the first page.

Well your lead story is the first page and if viewers like it, they'll stick around to see what else is going to happen. If they don't then they'll walk away. 

The hardest part about choosing a lead story is figuring out what you think is most important and relevant to what is happening on your day of air. Naturally, one story won't be capable of drawing everyone in, however you should target the greatest number of viewers as possible. 

When I was the lead producer last week, my lead story was the presidential debate that was happening that night. It was immediately clear to both me and my producing team that this would be the lead story, as it is something that people all over the country care about.

Yet in choosing such a big national story as the lead, we also had to make sure to advance the story in some way. While we covered the basic elements of the story, we also tried to localize the story by speaking with students and local campaign heads in the city of Los Angeles. We also previewed the debate viewing party that would be held for USC students at Annenberg. 

While this was an obvious lead story, sometimes choosing a lead is a little more difficult. Our producing team does not and will not always agree on everything, so at a certain point the lead producer needs to make a judgment call as to which story they want to kickoff their newscast with. 

When talking about judgment calls, something to consider is the fact that at 21-years-old, my opinion of a news story's importance may be very different than that of someone my grandma's age. So while I need to think about students and my generation, I also need to remember to cover news in a way that is appealing to older viewers. For example, if I was doing a story about the release of the iPhone 5, I would try to include elements beyond the gadget itself such as how this will affect Apple stocks. That way someone like my grandma, who still has an old flip phone, will find value in a story that is targeted towards a younger, tech-ier generation.

All in all, Team Wednesday's goal is to keep people hooked until the very end. And then maybe they'll come back for our sequel next week. 


Emilie has seen the way of the alliterative/assonant title. She's never turning back.

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